NEW YORK (AP) — The rafters are shaking downtown at the Public Theater, where the dynamic new hip-hop musical, "Venice," is rocking the Anspacher Theater. It's a potent, dystopian mashup of rap music, Shakespeare's "Othello," sibling rivalry and political intrigue. And there's a sweet love story, too.
Intricate vocal harmonies infuse the pulsating anthems and ballads performed by a youthful, energetic cast, and the staging is acrobatic and effective, in the irresistible Public Lab production that opened Thursday night. Director Eric Rosen co-created the book and co-wrote the lyrics with Matt Sax, who wrote the music.
The complex, often-operatic score, which includes additional music by Curtis Moore, delineates character and creates a moody atmosphere while compellingly advancing the story. Chase Brock's versatile choreography creates a feverish sense of foot-stomping rebellion, as well as somber, elegiac moments.
Haaz Sleiman and Leslie Odom Jr. play half-brothers on opposite sides of a feud that has divided the citizens of a once-peaceful city. Sleiman is charismatic and regal as Venice, the leader of the freedom movement, while Odom gives a sly appeal to Markos, his jealous, Machiavellian brother who heads the military occupiers.
Jennifer Damiano exudes angelic goodness and sings beautifully as Willow, the symbol of unity that could reunite the divided city. As Venice's childhood sweetheart, Willow has several ardent duets with Sleiman, including the lovely, "Waited All These Years." Damiano's voice soars on "If Only," a song of regret over the death of a dear friend.